The Natural Goodness of St. John

Paradise awaits on the most undeveloped of the larger U.S. Virgin Islands, where you can hike and snorkel and follow that with really good food.

By Clark Mitchell | Photography By Pamela Ashley Pasco

People come to the U.S. Virgin Islands for all sorts of things. You have the shopping, restaurants and nightlife scene on St. Thomas. There’s the quieter, more remote island of St. Croix. And then there’s the stunning beauty of St. John. Most of St. John is preserved as part of the Virgin Islands National Park. If you’re staying on St. Thomas, it’s definitely worth a day trip to see this nearby tropical idyll.

Don’t be deterred by the process of getting here: You’ll take a car ferry from Red Hook, on St. Thomas. To board the ferry you’ll be instructed to back onto it (making the drive off on the other side easier). This isn’t as hard as it sounds, and the ferry employees will guide you on; just stay calm. Or, take a passenger ferry and pick up a cab at Cruz Bay to tour the island.

You’ll arrive in Cruz Bay, which has a handful of good shops and restaurants, but consider heading east to start your day and ending up here for dinner before returning to St. Thomas. From town take North Shore Road, which offers amazing views of the neighboring British Virgin Islands. You can pull over at Trunk Bay, which has great swimming and snorkeling. If you’re sharp-eyed you may see lionfish, an invasive species known for its ornate beauty (and voracious appetite).

Next make your way east to Coral Bay, a classic little waterside Caribbean town. Boaters who stop here rave about the burgers at Skinny Legs, a quirky bar and grill on Route 10. A few miles on you’ll find Vie’s Snack Shack, a roadside stand with picnic tables. Besides the garlic chicken, johnnycakes and peas and rice with meat sauce, Vie’s turns out arguably the best conch fritters in the Caribbean.

You may want to hike off some of those calories, and the Virgin Islands National Park offers plenty of opportunity to do just that. Try the Cinnamon Bay Self-Guided Trail, which weaves through the site of a former sugar factory.

Before you back onto that ferry for the return trip to St. Thomas, sample the tapas and paella at La Tapa, where chef-owner Alexandra Ewald has recreated a little slice of Spain right in the heart of Cruz Bay. It’s a delicious way to cap off a day on St. John.

THE DETAILS
Trunk Bay
North Shore Rd.; 340-776-6201; nps.gov
Vie’s Snack Shack
Rte. 10; 340-693-5033; hansenbaycampground.com; lunch for two, $20*
Cinnamon Bay Self-Guided Trail
nps.gov
La Tapa
Prince St., Cruz Bay; 340-693-7755; latapastjohn.com; dinner for two, $120
  • *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax or tip.
  • *All prices are in USD.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: July 2015